Lookout wine expert Laurie Love reports on an “everything everywhere all at once” harvest in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, lists her wine favorites from this month’s Grazing on the Green, plus her Kathryn Kennedy wine of the week, the unique Zayante sand, and a lesson on what happens after harvest.
Welcome to Laurie Love on Wine! I am Laurie Love, a professional wine writer and educator based in Santa Cruz. I am thrilled to be Lookout’s new wine correspondent, and look forward to sharing my wine passion, knowledge and experience with Lookout readers. Follow me on my wine blog, Laurie Loves Wine, and on Instagram at LaurieLoveOnWine. I love email from readers! Stay in touch: Email me wine news, new wine releases, wine events, or questions you have about wine, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join me as we journey together through the wonderful world of wine.
Harvest update: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
As I have reported in my two most recent columns, the 2023 harvest started out slowly and much later than in the past. But now, thanks to the heat spike we had the first week of this month, grapes are ripening fast, and everyone is harvesting everything all at once in a short period of time. Kyle Theriot, director of vineyard operations at Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, said, “Currently, all varietals across all elevations [in the Santa Cruz Mountains] are ripening at the same time, which will condense the harvest.” Alex Prikazsky, winemaker at El Vaquero Winery in Corralitos, confirmed this: “We harvested half of all our grapes in just four days.” As Robert Bergstrom of Sandar & Hem proclaimed, “Everything everywhere all at once,” quoting the movie title of the same name to describe the current harvest frenzy.
Most wineries are still waiting for cabernet sauvignon to fully ripen, although a few winemakers are starting to get cabernet fruit from the historic Bates Ranch Vineyard near Mount Madonna. Cabernet sauvignon ripens later than pinot noir. Cabernet winemakers and vineyard managers eagerly await what is sure to be a great vintage.
I spoke with two cabernet winegrowers in the northern part of the Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area (AVA) about how things are looking. Theriot of Ridge Vineyards said they started harvesting a few blocks at Monte Bello on Oct. 2: “We are a solid four weeks behind, making this the latest harvest in my 13 seasons at Ridge.” Theriot is cautiously optimistic about this vintage. “The long ripening period has set the stage for optimal phenological maturity without sugars spiking too high,” he said. “Fruit quality looks fantastic! However, in a delayed vintage we are running against the clock of seasonal change. Nights are already getting pretty chilly.” As the days shorten with less daytime sunshine and nighttime temperatures drop, there is risk of grapes not fully ripening or risk of frost.
Nicolas Vonderheyden, owner, winemaker and vineyard manager at Maison Areion, farms using sustainable practices and dry-farming techniques. He grew up in Bordeaux, where his family operates the Château Monbrison winery in Margaux. Vonderheyden is equally excited about this vintage, saying, “The growing season has been fantastic so far, and this might very well be a grand vintage for California wines. It reminds me of some of Bordeaux’s exceptional years. There hasn’t been any heat stress nor major weather events that disturbed the slow and steady growth. The longer the growing season, the better for the grapes and the vines. The challenge we are facing now is to get these grapes ripe, and patience is of the essence.” Vonderheyden continued: “Overall I believe we will see great balance in the 2023 vintage, with wines benefiting from being laid down and forgotten for a few years after they are bottled.”
Those lucky few who source fruit from the historic Green Earth Zayante vineyards are starting to get high-quality zinfandel, syrah and merlot grapes from there. Green Earth Zayante is home to the original Zayante Vineyards, founded by Greg Nolten and Kathleen Starkey, and Prudy Foxx of Foxx Viticulture is the vineyard consultant. Foxx said, “The vineyard is managed with organic practices and has never seen synthetic pesticides of any kind. It is old vine, dry-farmed own-rooted,” meaning that the vines are not irrigated and are planted on their own roots rather than grafted to phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Thanks to its position in a large south-facing clearing in the Santa Cruz Mountains and its special sandy-soil composition called “Zayante sand,” this vineyard is unique to the entire AVA. Foxx said the fruit from this vineyard “comes in consistently ahead of other Bordeaux and traditionally later varietals. Quality is outstanding.” (For more information on Zayante vineyard, check out my blog post, “Zayante Vineyard Zinfandel – A Special Wine from a Special Place.”)
Grazing on the Green coverage
Beautiful, warm, sunny weather ushered in the annual Gourmet Grazing on the Green event Oct. 7, featuring over 40 vendors doling out delicious samples of Santa Cruz County wine, beer and food. The event, a fundraiser for the Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group, was well-attended in spite of the heat, and the wines were better than ever. Here’s a recap of some of my favorites.
I started at the Bottle Jack Winery booth to taste a not-yet-released 2022 Rosé of Mourvèdre that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Bright pale salmon in the glass, the wine was at once refreshing and complex. Bright red fruit (raspberry, ruby grapefruit, white cherry) with a subtle spice note, good body and good acid freshness, this wine will be a winner when it’s released.
Beauregard Vineyards had a tasty lineup of Santa Cruz Mountains wines. I loved the 2021 Chardonnay ($35) made from 75% Beauregard’s Bald Mountain Vineyard and 25% Regan Vineyard fruit. Fresh lemon, orange, apple and pineapple notes with a great linear mineral component. Bottled under screw cap and priced at $35, the wine is approachable and ready to drink now.
Over at the Integrity Wines booth, I tasted through a great flight of wines, starting with its newly released 2021 Monterey Albariño ($26), which offered lovely stone, tropical and citrus fruit flavors (peach, mango and Cara Cara orange) along with orange Pez candy and a good acidity to match the medium body. I loved its 2021 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($36). The wine had typical red fruit, floral and brown spice pinot noir qualities. Aged in mostly French oak (30% new), the wine is youthful and shows promise for long ageability.
A couple of wineries were pouring cabernet franc wines: 2019 Wrights Station Santa Cruz Mountains Lago Lomita Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($49) and 2018 El Vaquero Santa Clara Valley Althena Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($35). Both of these wines were fantastic with lovely cabernet franc floral notes, cherries, green peppercorn, nice soft tannins and good balance. Wrights Station Winery, usually known for its pinot noir and chardonnay bottlings, knocked it out of the park with this complex and tasty wine sourced from the high-elevation Lago Lomita Vineyard up the road from the winery near the Summit. And El Vaquero Winery’s cabernet franc, made with great skill by winemaker Alex Prikazsky, is always one of my favorites with beautiful fruit and floral aromas still there and going strong after five years.
Doon to Earth was pouring its yet-to-be-released 2022 Ser Winery Gruner Veltliner, a white varietal best known in Austrian wines with only 150 acres planted in California. The grapes for this gruner came from the Mesa del Rio vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands. Dry (not sweet) and fresh, the wine had an abundance of lime and lime leaf flavors, perfect for the hot weather! This wine would pair great with Asian dishes, shellfish and tacos.
In the delicious world of pinot noir from the Corralitos area, several wines stood out for me. Santé Arcangeli’s 2022 Rosé of Pinot Noir was fresh and lively and paired well with many of the small bites on offer at the event. Lester Estate Wines was pouring their tasty 2019 Domingo Pinot Noir ($57), a stunning pinot made by Emiddio Justin Massa. And Charmant Vineyards’ 2018 Santa Cruz Mountains Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir ($75) was lush and fruity with a great body and structured tannins. Super ageworthy but tasting great now.
One of my top favorite wines of the event is also my Wine of the Week, the 2014 Kathryn Kennedy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. See below for details on this beauty.
All wines can be purchased directly from the wineries, and some are available at local retailers Shopper’s Corner and Staff of Life.
Coming soon: A new upscale wine bar in Scotts Valley
This just in: Sommelier and co-founder of two Michelin star restaurant Saison in San Francisco, Mark Bright, and his hospitality and winemaking team will be opening the brand new Saison Cellar & Wine Bar in Scotts Valley later this month. The concept is a cozy, intimate space offering an elevated wine bar experience, featuring a distinctive selection of local and global wines personally curated by Bright. The wine bar will be located at 222 Mt. Hermon Rd., Suite I, in the Kings Village Shopping Center. I will be previewing this new spot soon with Lily Belli. Stay tuned for more details in my next column.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Each column, I will write about a particular wine that I’m enjoying now. The Wine of the Week this week is …
2014 Kathryn Kennedy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($155)
Marty Mathis, owner, winemaker and winegrower, is the son of Kathryn Kennedy, a pioneer in Santa Cruz Mountains wine and one of the first women in California to have her own wine brand. Kennedy established her top-quality cabernet sauvignon vineyard from clone #8 cuttings from David Bruce Vineyard planted on their own roots in 1973 on her property above Saratoga. The vineyard is 100% cabernet sauvignon and has been certified organic from California Certified Organic Farmers since 2007. Kathryn Kennedy Winery quickly gained a stellar reputation. After 35 years working alongside Kathryn Kennedy, her son Mathis continues to grow and make world-class wines from this historic and sustainable vineyard, of which less than one acre of original plantings remain.
Before I reached the Kathryn Kennedy booth at Grazing on the Green, this wine was creating a lot of buzz. Wine people in Santa Cruz know the reputation and quality Kathryn Kennedy wines have had for decades. I was pleased to see Mathis himself there pouring his wines, including this library selection. He explained that the wine was aged two years in 80% French oak, 20% American oak, and 20% of the oak was new.
In the glass, the wine is a gorgeous deep red velvet with long legs. The wine explodes with delightful aromas and flavors of a well-made cabernet: blackberry, dark plum, ripe black cherry, cassis, cedar, tobacco, clove, mint. Big, jammy and ripe, this is a rich, powerful full-bodied wine with amazing structure. Firm tannins are so well integrated and in balance with the acid and fruit expression, indicating this wine still has decades of aging potential. The finish is long and soft and elegant. Pair this beautiful wine with the finest steak and bordelaise sauce, or simply a fine English blue cheese. This is truly an outstanding cab made from some of the oldest cabernet vines in our region. Bravo!
For more information on Kathryn Kennedy wines, go to its website. Note that Kathryn Kennedy Winery is not open to the public for tastings or tours, but its wines are available by the case only for curbside pickup by appointment. Here is the link to purchase this wine directly from Kathryn Kennedy.
You may find this wine in the glass cabinet at Shopper’s Corner or Whole Foods Market. If you can’t find this wine locally, it may be available on wine.com.
WINE 101 — What happens after harvest?
Who doesn’t love a wine class? In each column, I’ll give a mini-lesson on wine. Wine doesn’t have to be confusing. Whether you’re new to wine or a seasoned expert, there is always something new to learn in the wide and wild world of wine. Email me at email@example.com and let me know what you’re interested in learning about.
As we are in the midst of harvest now, readers have asked me what happens to wine grapes after they are harvested off the vines. This is where art and science come together as winemakers turn grapes into wine. Wine can be made in many different ways using a wide variety of techniques depending on style, varietal, price point, regional practices, and so on. The basic steps I describe here represent the typical process, but there are always exceptions in wine.
One of the most important steps after harvest is sorting. For quality wine production (i.e., not bulk wine), this step ensures that blemished fruit and MOG (matter other than grapes, which can sometimes even include insects or rodents!) do not make it into the wine. Sorting can happen in the vineyard directly after harvest, or it can be done at the winery just before crush.
For grapes destined for white wines, winemakers will typically crush and destem them in a crusher/destemmer machine at the winery before immediately pressing the grape juice off the skins using a wine press. Grape skins impart tannin (and its astringency) and color, so most white wines are made without skin contact. The clear juice may go through a settling period, then moves into a fermenting vessel.
For aromatic and fruit-driven wines (such as a riesling or albariño), that vessel will usually be a stainless-steel temperature-controlled fermentation tank fitted with a glycol surround that keeps the tank cool during fermentation. White wines are fermented at cooler temperatures than red wines to retain their delicate fruit flavors. Stainless steel is considered a neutral vessel because it doesn’t impart any additional flavors to the finished wine. Other neutral vessels are concrete, amphorae, food-grade plastic, glass or neutral oak (one that has been previously used many times and no longer imparts oak flavors). For fuller-bodied white wines and those intended for aging (such as white Burgundy), the fermenting vessel could be oak barrel, usually neutral.
For red wines, the crush and destem step is usually the same, unless the winemaker is making a wine using whole clusters rather than individual berries. In that case, the grapes may or may not be crushed first but they won’t be destemmed. After crush, the red grapes are moved into the fermentation vessel. Depending on the style of wine being made, the fermentation vessel of choice can be any listed above, but it’s usually oak barrel for a fine-quality full-bodied red or a neutral vessel for a fruity red (like Beaujolais).
A key difference between white and red winemaking is when press happens. Whereas white wine grapes are pressed off their skins before fermentation, red wine grapes are pressed off their skins after fermentation. Red wine gets its color from grape skins, as most red wine grapes have clear pulp. So it’s important for red wine grapes to macerate and ferment with skins to extract color, as well as tannin and flavor. Seeds and stems (if included) also add to the tannin level in the finished wine.
So the basic steps for white wine are crush, destem, press and ferment. And those for red wine are crush, destem, ferment and press.
Next time we will pick up where we left off and take a look at the next step in winemaking: fermentation. All the wineries in our region (and in fact, all of California) have wines fermenting in their wineries now. So make a point to visit a favorite winery and check out fermentation in action.
UPCOMING WINE EVENTS
Each column I highlight some of the wine events happening around our region. If you are a winery or organization that has an upcoming wine event, email me with the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvest is in full swing and wine events abound up and down our wine region. It’s a busy and fun time to get out there and visit wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Uncork Corralitos is this Saturday from 1-4 p.m. at Alladin Nursery & Gift Shop at 2905 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville. You’ll find over 15 wineries (plus beer, food, and live music). Put on by the Rotary Club of Freedom, proceeds benefit two local charities: Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County and El Pajaro Community Development Corp.’s Kitchen Incubator. I’ll be attending this event, so look for my recap in the next edition of Laurie Love on Wine.
Bonny Doon Art, Wine and Brew Festival 20th anniversary is also this Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., featuring local wineries, art, craft beer and live bands. The event raises funds for the Bonny Doon Elementary School arts and sciences programs.
Pleasure Point Sip & Stroll features wine and beer tasting on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. This is a walk-around tasting through Pleasure Point.
Also on Saturday is Passport Celebration Day. Purchase a wine passport and visit participating wineries throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, each offering something special. For a list of participating wineries and to purchase your Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Passport, go online here.
In the mood for a harvest festival? Lily Belli’s recent list of food and drink events happening around the county this month included a variety of them. Here are my recommendations for wine lovers:
Summit wineries harvest party, Thursday, Oct. 26, 5-8 p.m. Four wineries come together to throw a harvest party: Burrell School Winery (host), Wrights Station, Villa del Monte, and Silver Mountain Vineyards. Music, food for sale, $10 tickets include the first glass of wine. What a deal!
Bargetto Winery Harvest Festival, Saturday, Oct. 28, 4-6 p.m.; $45 tickets include food and barrel samples.
On Saturday, Nov. 4, from 4-7 p.m., enjoy an evening of Wine & Roses at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. The 40th anniversary of this annual fundraiser for the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley features food, beer and wine tastings.
Coming up on Friday, Nov. 10, is the Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains popular annual event, Premier Cruz. Enjoy an exclusive tasting of cabernet sauvignon wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains followed by an intimate wine dinner prepared by chef Ross Hanson of Oak & Rye at Vidovich Vineyards on Montebello Road in Cupertino. The views and the wines are guaranteed to wow. Over 17 wineries will be pouring current cabernet sauvignon vintages alongside library wines. Get your tickets before it sells out.
And last but not least, the popular annual fall Downtown Santa Cruz Wine Walk is coming up on Sunday, Nov. 12, from 2-5 p.m.
Until next time … cheers!
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